The protected area in the Masai Mara consists of an area measuring 1510 sq kilometers. But the larger Masai Mara ecosystem hosts an estimated 3080 elephants and most of these are found outside the protected area. Due to the burgeoning human population and drastic land use changes in an attempt to feed the populace, many of these Elephants have found themselves sandwiched between wheat, maize or potato farms. This scenario has presented a very complicated situation especially in the areas surrounding Narok town namely Siyapei, Olontooto, Ntulele, Ewaso-ng’iro and Lemek areas where intensive farming has lately taken root.
Most of these lands were previously communally owned by the pastoral Maasai community but individual ownership has lately taken root thus displacing the resident Elephant herds and confining them to scattered pockets in the area. These pockets are more or less like small ‘prison cells’ for the Elephants who can only venture out after the fall of darkness.
The Kenyan Wildlife Service therefore decided to employ a more technologically advanced technique of monitoring their movements day and night to help in mitigation of the Elephant- Human conflict in this particularly vulnerable area. To achieve this the Mara Mobile Veterinary Unit was requested to assist and two Matriarchs from different areas were to be fitted with a radio collar that would send a GSM signal to a computer indicating the pattern of movement in real time and also indicating the proximity to farms on Google satellite maps. We successfully fitted the Collars to the two matriarchs; one at Siyapei and the second at Olontooto in an effort to better protect their herds..
At Olontooto the herds were right inside the Maasai homesteads and it was decided that the Kenya Wildlife Service Helicopter that was participating in the collaring exercise help in driving the Elephants away from the homesteads deeper into the bushes. The family consisted of about twenty elephants and as they ran for their dear lives from the clatter of the chopper overhead, a month old baby amongst them could not keep up with the run. She was tired and fell down.
The ground teams immediately swung into action. The baby was physically restrained and cooled off with some water, rested for a few minutes and loaded onto a pickup truck and driven to where the family had stopped.
Surprisingly two young Maasai men offered to help in restraining the calf as she was being driven to the mother. And it turned out that one of them; a Masai Moran, lost his father to an Elephant that trampled him to death while he was walking their livestock home from the grazing fields. The incident, years back had taken place at the spot where the calf was released to join its waiting mother. And as he told us the story he expressed his sympathy and forgiveness to the Elephants for the loss. He saw and understood their fragility and promised to help in conserving the biggest land mammal in whichever small role that he could possibly play!
The reunion was again made possible by the use of the Helicopter. The pilot spotted the family and directed the ground teams to where the elephants were. The little baby was released from the pick-up and happily joined her family who were waiting. We were overjoyed with the reunion and we felt that the baby was likewise happy to be with her mother. Wasn’t the Ele cow too, happy to be with her baby? We could sense the happiness in the Elephant family as well as in the human team present on the day.
We take this opportunity to thank each and every individual involved in this operation and many others in whichever small way, that are geared towards saving the remaining elephants and other wild species in Kenya and in the world as a whole. Thank you to all and God bless you.
Micheni Felix - Mara Vet Unit.